Archive for April, 2008

Yes, I know that we keep going on about it…

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

I’ve been trying for a while to write something more considered than the blogs that I kept on tour.
What I’ve ended up with is more of a personal musing and so it seemed appropriate to stick it in my own blog. The views expressed herein do not represent, etc…So if you want my two pennies-worth, it’s right here.It’s a bit of a marathon.

Anyway, I’ll try to stop going on about it now, I think I’ve got it all off my chest.

Touring by numbers.

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

I’ve been meaning to work out some of the salient facts and figures for the tour, so here’s a brief numerical guide to our adventures in Europe.

0.78 countries visited per day

1 song written in tour bus

1.3 drummers per gig (average)

4 countries played in

5 band members featured

6 most countries driven through in one day

7 countries visited

14 minutes - longest interval without Caleb’s snoring waking anyone

18.5 km/h average speed throughout tour

18.6 number of times Roo had to pee on the bus on a typical journey

119 gallons of diesel used

120 number of other people’s beers that Duke wandered off with

443 average km per day

4207 km travelled

Some of these are rough estimates. The one I find weirdest is that, on average, day or night, performing or eating, we were averaging 18.5km/h. We were told any slower and the bus would have had a bunch of illegal immigrants hanging off the back of it. We lost the last one when his near-side plimsoll blew out on the motorway just outside Bruges. There are lots of things that numbers don’t tell you. We can’t put a figure on the kindness we were shown. We can’t quantify just how much fun we had. Although we could probably estimate the number of amazing people that we’ve met, we can’t give you a number that tells you just how amazing they are.

There’s one other number; nebulous, waiting to be fixed. It’s the number of seconds until the next time we do this. And it’s ticking away…

By Caleb…

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

I have just finished reading what Neil has written about our adventures in Europe and thought it about time I finally do as asked and add some of my own thoughts to the blog - Neil,if you are reading this, the inadaquacy I feel in even trying to write anything next to you is overwhelming.I sit at work (clearly not working) and think that all I have now are the memories of the people, the travel and most of all the music.  I also sit and wait for my couch surfing registration email so that I may keep in touch with all the people with whom I shared a beer and song over the last few days.

Thinking back to when this tour was first mentioned, I remeber feeling that it would be a nice idea but was unlikely to actaully happen - So many good ideas get lost in the monotony of everyday life.  However, behind the scenes and without my knowledge work was being done to bring it all together and make it happen and one day it was reality.  I still dont think I beleived is was real until the tour bus pulled away and we waved goodbye to our loved ones.

The travelling has been good.  The friends I knew I had in the band have now become even more important to me.  There are not a whole lot of people you can spend 9 days on a small bus with and still be laughing but we did it and with barely a crossed word or a frown between us.  I was going to write that this type of camaraderie is down to tolerance but now that think about it I actually belieive it is more likely down to trust. Trust that they will be there when you need them, trust that they will be honest with you - both when you have slipped up and also when they have done something stupid themselves.   It is this that made the trip special in the first place.  New friends made along the way are the icing on the already ample cake.

The gigs were simply spectacular.  One thing about the layers is that we love to play - we dont always do it to the best of our ability but we dont quit. Even over the space of our last four gigs we have moved on furlongs as a band.  I truly look forward to our next UK gig where we can put what we have learned to good use and wow a different crowd.  Utrecht lit the fuse of an explosive tour and despite the last minute rush, everything came together for The Layers European debut.  The musicanship we were introduced to in Moira was stunning and at first I thought we might scare the crowds away with our bumbling UK sound.  I could not have been more wrong.  The nerves soon slipped away and The layers were playing Europe !!

Bach in Vienna was a step up again.  The same collection of outstanding muscians in a deeply atmospheric venue all backed by a responsive and eager crowd.  No nerves this time. More space and a chance to rock Vienna to it’s core which, in my opinion, we did.

Rupert hurting his back was a dreadful blow and an unexpected early conclusion to his tour.  Speaking with him on the phone the day afer he arrived home broke my heart - I dont think I have ever been confronted with such sadness in my life.

The pardubice gig was overshadowed by the fact that we were only three quarters of where we should have been and had Duke not stpped up and leant the songs I dont think we would have been so well received.  I dont think it could have been eny better with a stand in drummer - the only way we could have topped it would have been by having Roo with us.  In the end though we managed to do what Rupert has been urging us to do for months now and we put on a show for the crowd.  That one was for you Roo.

And finally, the long trip home - plenty of time to think and reflect and get our thoughts in order - plenty of time but not really enough.  Thoughts of friends we may not see for a long time to come, memories of crowds dancing and cheering and of stages oozing talent.

I really only have one last thing to write.  These blogs have, up until now, been exclusively written by Neil and he praises us and encourgaes and often insults us (i will assume in jest) but he seldom receives the praise he himself deserves.  So, Neil, for you energy and committment, your boundless talent and endless humour, your beautiful writing both here and in our songs; for the music you write and the passion with which you perform it, we thank you.

D’yer want some soup?

On tour III - Pardubice, we love you…

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

It is late. I sit with a small glass of Irish whiskey and try to think of a way to sum up all that has happened over the last eight days and I can’t; it’s simply too much. So it’s back to headlines, fleeting impressions and the random reflections that pop into my head for a while until I can produce something more considered.

Let’s start with this: Thank you Pardubice - you guys rock! What a great crowd: you made us feel like rock stars, you made us feel like friends - nobody could ask for a better audience. Our thanks to Viktor, the guys in Funktomass, our sound engineer, our photographers and new fans. And those strange Hungarian brothers, whoever they were…

A mile from home, driving our bus down the final stretch of road, we reflected that twenty four hours ago we were on stage in front of that wonderful crowd in club Ponorka. All of a sudden, it barely seems real. I realise that I’m going to be sat here one evening soon and suddenly feel an aching sense of loss: I’ll want to be lugging my amp down another set of stairs in a foreign bar, to hear Tommy singing in Russian or Duke roaring out a Marillion cover, to be laughing with Henk and Paul over a mystery beer or talking philosophy with a stranger while I get ready to perform again. I may even come to miss the endless tape of road playing its grumbling, atonal fugue beneath the wheels of our temporary home or Caleb’s snoring. No, scratch that last one…

So, Duke filled in for Rupert in Pardubice and we were able to play a gig that, on reflection, I wouldn’t have missed for all the tea in China. We had to trim the set a little, which is a shame and we were without a quarter of the band, which is a far greater shame because Roo, showman that he is, would have been in his element at that gig. But let’s hand it to Duke - I feel - we all feel - that we’ve made a friend for life there and, if you’re reading this Duke, me case es su casa. (I think that’s Spanish for ‘You wandered off with my case, you theiving Mexican…’). He did an amazing job of learning our set (not wholly straightforward, it has to be said) in a short time and didn’t even fuck up Shadowpictures. (Even more amazingly, neither did any of us…)

Last night was an incredible end to a wonderful tour for us. Many miles travelled, many friends made, many adventures and a lot of laughter. We feel awful that we had to race off at the end without getting to know the crowd at Ponorka and without hearing the rest of the music - Tommy, just when we were getting to grips with some of the lyrics! We just about made it to the Channel Tunnel - we’ve travelled through six countries in 24 hours. We are, quite frankly, knackered.

A personal note to end this entry. My own personal thanks to the guys in the band. To Rupert, for being the ever-beating heart of what we do; for his energy and humour; for making the right decision for himself, his family and for the band even though it broke his heart. To Caleb for his extraordinary musicianship; for his ever-present smile, razor wit and self-deprecating humour. To Paul for being our anchor; for his endless capability, world-wisdom, can-do approach, his ability to deal with just about anything. You are my brothers. And thanks to Jen, Sheena and Lorraine for allowing the boys out to play with their disreputable friend after dark. They all played like rock stars but behaved like perfect gentlemen.

At some stage I’m going to write about this tour properly but for now I’m going to collapse into bed.

Layers out.

On tour II - Bratislava, backache and bastards.

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

Bratislava, backache and bastards.

No drummer, no drama, that’s our motto in The Layers. Today has been dominated by Roo’s herniated disc. After a consultation with Vienna’s foremost spinal specialist, we decided that drumming would be unwise for him and faced with the prospect of Rupert being unable to vent his energies on the bus, were forced to take the difficult step of packing him off to another country like some elderly, incontinent relative that we didn’t want to look after (SOUP?).

Yes, we jest (we do that a lot in the Layers) but in truth, our hearts are breaking at the thought of Roo having to fly home part way through our tour. It’s been such an amazing experience and we know that Roo’s missing out so much. And it has to be said that Roo really is the heart of the band, we are the less without him.

So let’s examine the fringe benefits. After a frantic session of web searches and phone calls we determined that Roo’s best shot of getting home quickly and semi-affordably was to fly from Bratislava with Eurocheapieflights in a mothballed WWII bomber. A brief confrontation with the bossy lady on the satnav unit revealed that time was of the essence. There was only one thing to do - put the Blues Brothers sound track on and set off at high speed through Vienna. Somehow we always knew that we would end up paying homage to the great band movies so today we’ve paid tribute to both the Blues Brothers and Spinal (no pun intended) Tap as we move towards 1.5 gigs per drummer. Statistically speaking, this also means that the tour is now 7 countries in 7 days - no small feat. We got to see a whole other country, too - albeit briefly.

Also in the plus column is that we have a stand-in drummer all ready to go. Duke has agreed to have a go and even as I write is probably air-drumming on a Viennese couch. Big shout for CouchSurfing here: if we were flying solo; just doing gigs in random European venues - we’d be screwed. What we’ve been involved in is much more than a series of gigs; Roo joined Paul and his friends the other night on stage and I got to sing with Duke. It feels like we’ve joined a family. The gigs in Utrecht and Vienna have been tremendous collective efforts - everybody has thrown themselves into it heart and soul.

Everyone that we’ve met so far has been so friendly and so helpful that it becomes easy to forget that there are still an awful lot of arseholes out there. Tonight we went out for a quick beer with Paul, the guy who’s put on the gigs in Vienna and Marcus, one of the big wheels in the Vienna CS scene. Paul’s a great guy; inventive and passionate about his music, full of energy and enthusiasm. This evening a pair of idiots in a bar started to try and pick a fight with him - as far as we could tell just because he looks a little different from them; anyone who was part of the live music scene in their late teens and early twenties will probably know exactly what I’m writing about. It’s a good job that nothing kicked off: neither of these guys were terribly big - what Caleb hadn’t eaten Paul would have kicked the crap out of. It was a pity to be reminded that not everyone is like the crowd we’ve met through CS.

Ever onwards. Tomorrow we drive on to Pardubice -  a few hours to try and rehearse with a new drummer, one more gig and then the long, long drive home. If the tour so far is anything to go by, Pardubice is going to be just as unforgettable as Utrecht and Vienna. Here’s the best thing: we realise that this isn’t a once in a lifetime experience - it will be different next time, I dare say that we’ll be taking the WAGS (although as none of us has both, strictly they’ll be wives or girlfriends  -work the punchline out for yourself) and kids along too. But we’ve become a part of something bigger.

Our thoughts go out to Roo. If you’re reading this, mate, know that wherever we go you’re with us: still the heart and soul of what we do. This next gig is dedicated to you.

More from the tour later. Sleep beckons.

Layers out.

On tour pt I - Utrecht and Vienna

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

Late afternoon sunshine on a campsite in Vienna, day two of the two-night music party in Club Bach and a long-awaited pause for breath: the first day without any driving… bliss.

For a while it felt as if our whole world had narrowed to a series of two, three, four lane roads snaking across France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and then Austria: watching the satnav oh-so-slowly marking off the miles and minutes until our next destination, alternating tarmac and  concrete marked off with service stations, parking spaces full of slumbering hauliers and a constant stream of McDonalds and Ikea reminding us that however alien the road signs we hadn’t travelled as far as it may feel. In a way it’s a disappointment: the realisation that all that makes these places exotic to us is that we have been too lazy to learn the language; I had the notion that I would prefer it if the natives would break off in mid-conversation, inflate great gas bladders and drift off into the atmosphere, be totally alien, incomprehensible.

The tour started on a high note: Paul had managed to find himself extra time off and secreted himself onto the bus: the news that we wouldn’t have to play a gentle acoustic set in Utrecht immediately uplifting. Getting used to driving our giant tour bus to Folkestone and then onto the train for the journey under the Channel: like a docking sequence from a sci-fi movie. Ever onwards; north through France and Belgium until fatigue compelled a stop in a truck stop.

Bacon and sausages, coffee and more driving to our first campsite: a strange place in Utrecht on the verge of closure where we were possibly the only campers, it was hard to tell.

Utrecht is beautiful: canals, old buildings and a never ending procession of beautiful girls smile as they ride bicycles past us. Has our fame spread already or are our ever-swivelling tourist necks simply comical? No, it’s just the polite, laid-back Utrecht way; smile, relax, enjoy.

We meet up with Duke at Henk’s house - he’s an elemental force, a wellspring of positivity. Henk arrives and on to the venue: Moira, balconied and shambolic, wonderful in every respect. Henk is constantly doing three things at once, there is trouble with the food, the PA, the bands haven’t all arrived. None of this dents Henk’s good nature. We pitch in and start doing what we can - the boys provide muscle and cheerful aid; I assist the engineer as we strive to turn the disparate collection of electronic detritus into a fully functioning PA system. The long day stretches on but finally, in the nick of time, it somehow all comes together. The Utrecht CS community have produced a fabulous, wholesome vegetarian meal. The acts start to show up: Tommy Beavitt songs in five languages, from beautiful, lilting folk to comical German and the memorable, Thackerayesque, ’Friends who Fuck’. Duke unleashes a roaring, passionate voice that freezes us in our tracks. Rueben dazzles us with a home-made guitar and an amazing retro-blues set and Skiff provide melody and harmony, a warm, relaxed vibe is building. We grow nervous that our somewhat louder, more confrontational music will provide too much of a contrast. We needn’t worry: the crowd are warm appreciative - we play to around 180 people. As ever, it’s over too quickly and almost before we’ve had time to enjoy the experience, it’s over: our hands are shaken, backs slapped, we are embraced.

It’s party time: local ska outfit Stampede bring the whole crowd to their feet and the place erupts: they put on a terrific set and we realise that there is a lesson here for us about showmanship. Finally Logathore close the evening with their techno-rock-opera… an act that defies pigeonholing; mysterious, challenging, eclectic - a perfect bookend.

A weary night in the motorhome and then Paul wins the golden bollard for reverse parking the 8.5 metre behemoth in a narrow, crowded street. Coffee with Henk and Bri and then loading gear and back on the road.

Endless driving follows, an epic journey punctuated by fitful sleep in a lorry park next to ’The Lust House’. It’s a nightclub, aparently…

Finally we descend into Vienna where we locate ’Camping West’ and then go in search of Club Bach. We love the venue immediately - a cousin of our home venue The Vaults, a low, tunnel like room with a well-set up PA. Again, there is much carrying of gear and sound checking. Our performance in Utrecht seems to have promoted us to top of the bill in Vienna or, more likely, we’re the only full band to play this evening.

Some of the acts are late: I get to do a little acoustic set, Paul from Logathore and his friends show their incredible versatility again. Then Tommy and Duke arrive, Henk and Reuben play, Logathore play again. We’re treated to witty, acerbic, allusive poetry from Jess, an American girl with a heartstopping smile.

Then it’s our turn. With space on stage and resolved to how off more we put on the performance of our lives: it’s fantastic. Roo, Paul and Caleb are grinning, moving, jigging, dancing, jumping. The audience start to get the idea. We have people dancing, jumping about. Beautiful girls are smiling at us: we feel like rock stars. Better still; the manager tells us that we’re the best band he’s had down there: we feel unstoppable.

Beer and celebration follows.

Today has been a gentle come-down: we’ve wandered the gorgeous streets of Vienna, goggle-eyed like tourists, eaten together and continued to laugh. Another night at Bach soon; more engineering for me but a night off for the boys. Next stop is a mercifully short hop to Pardubice and our last gig of the tour: can’t wait to play again although it’s a shame that is has to end so soon, just when we’re getting into our stride but there is the feeling that great things could follow. Watch this space…

Too many people to thank so if you’re reading this as someone who’s spoken to us, been part of this experience - thank you; it’s been indescribably good.